Author: Karen Scalf Linamen
Author’s Twitter page: https://twitter.com/karenlinamen
Publisher: Fleming H. Revell
Length: 153 pages plus 4-page preview of forthcoming volume
Illustrations: digitally manipulated cartoon image by Steve Björkman
Quote: “When you find yourself in emotional crisis...here are fourteen ways to feel better.”
Karen Scalf Linamen writes a comedy column, but she wants us to know she’s a depressed clown. She writes about the fun and funny things that have helped her survive her mood swings. She has something extremely important to say to women who struggle with depression.
And to the people who care about them. I bought this book because the drawing on the front cover reminded me of a former flatmate whose actual name happened to be Mona...which fitted her so well that giving it to her as a nickname would have seemed cheap and cruel. In an academic way I understood exactly what Mona had to moan about. She was being slowly crippled by an incurable disease. In practice, although her natural personality was quiet, warm, perky, and fun to have around, she was turning into the sort of hag who comes in from work and whines, “It’s stifling in here! Why didn’t you at least open a window! You never think about me!” So you open the window that faces down into the big pine tree, while she’s freshening up in the bathroom, and just as the fresh piney breeze blows across your desk she comes out and whines, “It’s freezing in here! If that draft doesn’t bother you, you might think about me!” One of the great spiritual victories of my life was that I never threw Mona out that window...but I loved her, and missed her after she was forced to retire at 35.
Those of us who find ourselves living with someone like Mona, or like Karen Scalf Linamen, may understandably feel that anything that makes them less of a pain to be around would be a good thing. So there is this tendency in our culture to think that serotonin-boosting antidepressants, which counteract the depressive mood swing with a mild “high,” have to be a good thing. Several people who’ve used antidepressants—often briefly, for shock, as Tipper Gore did—have become positive “cheerleaders” for these drugs. The only trouble is that so many people who use these antidepressants for more than a week or two develop some sort of neurological side effects....from asexuality to muscle spasms to violent insanity.
Actually, if Mrs. Gore had stopped to think about it, the Clinton Administration provided a real paradigm of what happens when people use Prozac and its “chemical relatives.” I don’t know whether Janet Reno had used a serotonin booster, but the premature parkinsonism that made her face look so grim in certain TV clips is one of the most common side effects these drugs have, and it hurts. George Stephanopoulos described the other very common side effect that he had, in All Too Human—back pain so severe that America’s most eligible bachelor temporarily lost all interest in sex. And while the facts of his last day on earth seem suspicious, we know for sure that Vince Foster used antidepressants a few weeks before he began making vague ungrounded accusations and then, apparently, shot himself; because about one out of ten users of antidepressants develop violent insanity of a paranoid-schizophrenic type, it’s entirely possible that, if one or two other men did go into the park with Foster and did shoot him, even that might have been his idea.
Linamen adds yet another Prozac-prospect image to our mental gallery. What if you take the drug, you’re able to quit while you still have some money and sanity left, the physical agony of withdrawal passes...and leaves you still depressed? (Dr. Kathleen Desmaisons has built her career (see www.radiantrecovery.com ) on that situation.)
Take one consideration with another, and whether you’re the depressed person or the friend or relative of one, you’ll realize that natural mood elevators like the ones discussed in Linamen’s books are a lot safer than antidepressant medications. People who are genuinely out of their minds with depression may need to be medicated and hospitalized until they stop trying to kill anybody, but people who just radiate unjustifiable gloom need to focus on finding natural relief for what they feel. Linamen can help.
A theory that works for many psychiatrists is that some of us simply inherit a tendency toward “serotonin deficiency” that needs continuous treatment with serotonin-boosting medications, but, as Peter Breggin reminded us, nobody has ever actually proved that “serotonin deficiency” exists as a whole separate disease. Serotonin deficiency is an effect, not a cause, of stress, grief, guilt, and general dissatisfaction with life.
Chronic serotonin deficiency may also be produced by other hormone imbalances like thyroid deficiency, adrenal exhaustion, alcohol intolerance and the “sugar sensitivity” that indicates the presence of the alcohol intolerance gene in abstainers, endorphin deficiency produced by a sedentary lifestyle, or any number of ovarian conditions that aren’t fully understood but may be triggered or aggravated by pregnancy. Or by allergies...people don’t even have to have conspicuous “allergy symptoms” in reaction to innocuous “triggers” like food or pollen in order to have subtle, chronic allergic-type reactions to chemicals, molds, and foods of which they’re genuinely intolerant. Or virus infections: the way most of us feel a few hours before “coming down with” a cold or flu seems similar to the way some people feel for months or years before being diagnosed with AIDS or cancer. In some cases, while natural mood-boosters are at least harmless Band-Aids for a broken arm, serotonin boosters may even aggravate the real problem.
So, if you are or know someone who seems depressive in any way, it’s hard to recommend books like Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy warmly enough. Obviously a collection of humor columns is no substitute for consulting a doctor, but the role model Linamen offers, trying to work through her mood swings without going back on drugs, is wonderful.
Where can you and/or your friend find a doctor who’s qualified to address the real problem, rather than just handing out pills? Obviously this will depend on what medical tests reveal. If the problem is something like chronic mold exposure or lactose intolerance, moral support is all you’ll need. If it’s myasthenia gravis or a highly fatal kind of cancer, mood swings are the least of your worries. And if medical tests lead to a diagnosis of “no major medical problems, just ordinary depression,” then it’s appropriate to let books like Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy guide the depressive person to find out what the feelings are trying to tell him or her.
Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy is especially good for those who’ve been burned by other “Christian” books about emotional self-help, many of which are actually written from the non-Christian, non-biblical perspective of the Christian Science sect. Too many books on the market assume that happiness is the normal state of being, even in a mortal world, and normal mental health means being able to convince oneself that one is happy all the time. For most people this isn’t true, and those of us who do manage to make our normal (neutral) emotional mood look “happy” to other people are more actively obnoxious than the depressive types. The “Christian” hype in “Positive Thinking” books and sermons is especially annoying to those who’ve read the Bible, not just selected texts wrenched out of their context but the whole Book, and realized what a “negative” (in the incorrect sense of “pessimistic”) book it is—how many of the great saints Jesus did not “want for a sunbeam.”
Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy is one Christian book that will not tell you it’s somehow a sin to feel what you feel, or even pretend that it’s “unspiritual” to want to make changes in the real world around you rather than trying to pretend you’ve “accepted” every bad thing in life. Sometimes Jesus wants us for a thunder clap or a gale-force wind, to confront and overcome evil...whether it’s the evil effect you have on yourself by unconsciously eating things your body isn’t able to digest, or the evil effect the mold in your basement may be having on everyone in your family and not just the obvious “allergy sufferer,” or the evil effect your children’s teasing may have on your family relationship, or who knows what else. And Linamen, blessed may she be, actually admits this. Sometimes what our feelings have to tell us is that something outside ourselves is not right and needs to be changed.
Linamen also keeps it light. Women could even share this book with their children. Like Jean Kerr’s books, Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy is definitely addressed to mothers, and contains some jokes their children won’t get, but it also contains funny stories children can enjoy and nothing likely to do children any harm, so there’s no need to hide it from the kids. You could read them the stories about how Linamen’s children, being a little more childish and ignorant than your audience, did these things that probably weren’t meant to hurt their Mommy’s feelings but they did...as a tactful suggestion that your audience might want to try to be more protective of their Mommy’s feelings. The language is that simple. Kids don’t have to know what PMS is to appreciate a story about what kinds of childish games make adults happy and what kinds make them grumpier.
(With this in mind, and some matching yarn in my stash, I actually dressed a doll to match the cover drawing and sold the copy of this book I reviewed as a family book, years before posting this review!)
Linamen is still alive and Tweeting, so Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy is a Fair Trade Book. Buy it here for $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment, and we send $1 to Linamen or a charity of her choice. She's written several other books of similar size; some of them are or should be still available as new books. (Click here to see the latest list.) Six or eight would fit into a package; if you want six of her older books you'd send this web site $35, or $36 as the case might be, and Linamen or her charity would get $6.